While shifting organizational culture can be a challenging and demanding task, the actual formulae for success is not complex. People can be complex, but the core ingredients that determine the extent an organisation is able to transform its personality (reflected in the way people behave) comes down to seven key priorities. Today’s Karen Gately blog itemises the key ingredients that make for true cultural change.
Success in shifting culture is intimately related to the extent to which there is real and visible ownership from the top. From the CEO through to each and every manager, leading by example and being champions of the desired culture are non- negotiables. Reading a HBR article recently on Leading Change by John Kotter, one thing he said resonated particularly loudly with me. “If the requirements for promotion don’t change, renewal rarely lasts. One bad succession decision at the top of an organisation can undermine a decade of hard work”. No-one should be appointed to a leadership role unless they operate in ways consistent with the culture you want to create. Leadership capability and accountability are both crucial and arguably have the greatest impact on success.
- Define Cultural Aspirations
Like anything you want to achieve, a clear vision of where you want to go is crucial to enabling you determine the best path to take you there. It isn’t enough (for example) to simply say you want a high performance culture – you need to clearly articulate what high performance means in your business. Equally, understanding the destination and subsequent journey you are embarking upon will allow you to understand and respond to challenges and obstacles you may encounter along the way.
- Define Enabling Behaviours
Identify desirable behaviours that reflect the culture you are aspiring to create. Every member of your team needs to understand how to behave in a way that is considered not only acceptable but successful in your organisation. For example, if you want to create a culture that any reasonable person would describe as having integrity, it is important to describe what that looks like in action. One organisation we work with focuses on the following behaviours that (in their business) define acting with integrity:
- Be honest and respectful when dealing with others
- Do what we say and hold ourselves accountable
- Be fair in all of our dealings and interactions
- Demonstrate empathy and regard for others
- Set Clear Expectations
Once you establish a clear view of how you want people to behave, you need to tell them. Setting clear expectations is the first step to ensuring you are in a position to hold people accountable to appropriate behaviour. While there is some value in whole of company or team communications, leaders crucially need to engage one-to-one with each member of their team to ensure they understand what is expected of them.
- Make It Matter
One of the biggest mistakes I observe in driving culture change is failing to either assess behaviour or apply consequences. Unless the way people behave truly matters, it’s unlikely you will get the shift you are looking for. Consequences mean rewarding and recognizing desirable behaviours in addition to taking correction action when people don’t behave in line with the culture you are striving to create. It is crucial that leaders evaluate the contributions people make based both on their achievements and the manner they go about their work. Amongst the most courageous and impactful actions I observe leaders in driving cultural change are when they call the poor behaviours of staff who either excel in achieving agreed targets (e.g. sales) or whose skills are in short supply and high demand. Sometimes these people perceive that they are ‘untouchable’ and don’t feel compelled to comply with behavioural expectations. Taking a stance in holding these people accountable is one of the most important things a leader can do to break the back of undesirable corporate cultures.
- Recruit for Fit
While you work to shift the culture of your organisation, make sure that every new person you bring into the team is aligned with your values and behaviours. I recently wrote a blog about how to assess candidates for culture fit, so I won’t elaborate too much here. What I will say is that I encourage every leader to only consider a recruitment process complete once the candidate has successfully completed their probation period. That is a valuable time to determine whether or not you have made the right hiring decision and if the person is likely to work in a way consistent with your desired culture.
- Be Consistent
Culture change will not be achieved if the leaders of the organisation have an inconsistent approach and therefore send different or competing messages about what is expected, accepted and ultimately successful when it comes to behaviour. Equally a leader who is inconsistent in their approach from one staff member to another will undermine their credibility and ability to successfully lead culture change.
These are the most important ingredients to successfully establishing a new and improved company culture. While there are other factors to consider and ways in which leaders can influence culture change, focusing on these seven priorities will substantially impact the likelihood of success.